In cyclic populations, high genetic diversity is currently reported despite the periodic low numbers experienced by the populations during the low phases. Here, we report spatio-temporal monitoring at a very fine scale of cyclic populations of the fossorial water vole (Arvicola terrestris) during the increasing density phase. This phase marks the transition from a patchy structure (demes) during low density to a continuous population in high density. We found that the genetic diversity was effectively high but also that it displayed a local increase within demes over the increasing phase. The genetic diversity remained relatively constant when considering all demes together. The increase in vole abundance was also correlated with a decrease of genetic differentiation among demes. Such results suggest that at the end of the low phase, demes are affected by genetic drift as the result of being small and geographically isolated. This leads to a loss of local genetic diversity and a spatial differentiation among demes. This situation is counterbalanced during the increasing phase by the spatial expansion of demes and the increase of the effective migration among differentiated demes. We provide evidences that in cyclic populations of the fossorial water voles, the relative influence of drift operating during low density populations and migration occurring principally while population size increases interacts closely to maintain high genetic diversity.
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